Wednesday, 26 November 2014

What I Learned from Downton Abbey

by E. Amato

As Downton Abbey enters season 5, I am thinking of all the reasons I love it. The lush production design and lavishly detailed authentic to period costumes. The clearly defined roles and rules that make life possibly dull, but never too dramatic. The ability of the Dowager to say absolutely anything that pops in her head no matter how ill-advised or delectably inappropriate.

And the fact that it empowers contemporary women.

Wait – what? A show about women who dress for dinner and have ladies’ maids and who aspire to throwing the perfect party is empowering for contemporary women?


Lots of women I know have multiple degrees, careers, children, and homes. They have partners and sometimes pets. What they do not have are ladies’ maids, cooks, assistant cooks, groundskeepers, household managers, butlers and service staff. Some of them have nannies, part time, and maybe a cleaner every other week. There might be a gardenerfor upkeep, but no one to tend or nurture the plants.

Often these women work more than 40 hours a week, usually at high-pressure jobs. They get their kids up and dressed and fed before school. They make lunches. They shuttle children back and forth to school and activities. They clean their homes, food shop, prepare dinner, make doctors' appointments for the family, travel plans and play dates for children, drop off and pick up dry cleaning, take care of appliance repairs and schedule service people. It's an endless list, and they are rarely seen seated.

To be equitable, sometimes gender roles are reversed, and there are those rare true partnerships where work is shared well. Yet still, it seems impossible to run a household and family and career with only one or two people shouldering all the work without creating a huge amount of stress and an even bigger sleep deficit. People are exhausted, sleeping only about the same amount as the servants at Downton. No one imagines asking for help. 

I want them to watch Downton Abbey and dream of help. Dream it to the point of asking for it. Maybe not a staff of people living in your house, under and above ground toiling in obscurity for a pittance, but an online personal assistant to handle some of the administrative tasks, a cleaner who will do laundry, a shopping service to deliver the groceries.

Time is precious. Life energy is precious. I see people grinding themselves into the ground to maintain their lives, inviting anxiety and depression, and that feeling of never being good enough, when they are actually quite fantastic. 

Returning to the lifestyle of a rigid class structure is certainly not the answer. But learning from it is possible. Watching Downton it’s simple to see the incredible amount of work it takes to run a household and a family. Imagine Cora and Robert suddenly relocated to 2014, trying to run the house and grounds, take care of the children, grandchildren, and civic concerns without staff and it becomes obvious that we are doing too much, trying far too hard and not getting anywhere.  

Maybe it's time to learn to let go of this idea of perfect, get cosy with good enough and actually enjoy our days.

Zestyverse Editor/Publisher E. Amato has woven a creative life that moves fluidly between words, stages, film, and practical activism. She was a member of the 2011 Los Angeles Slam Team and has competed at Poetry Slam Nationals and WOWps. In 2010, Zesty Pubs released her first collection, Swimming Through Amber, her Kindle book 5 in 2012, and her second poetry collection, Will Travel, in 2013. In 2007 and 2008 Down Home traveled to the Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, garnering 5-star reviews consecutive years – a rare honour. She recently produced Homeless in H

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